A video of popular Christian messianic missionary and Hebraic roots teacher "Rabbi" Ralph Messer, wrapping mega-church leader Eddie Long in a Torah scroll and crowning him as a king, has become a viral punch in the gut for Jews of all persuasions, and has caused members of various evangelical sects to shift into damage-control mode.
For years mega church leaders and various messianic congregations have been appropriating Jewish objects, traditions and rituals to dress-up Christian worship. Messer is no exception. He has been publicly ravaging Torah scrolls for quite some time now, with some of Israel's best friends actively participating in the desecration of Torah after Torah after Torah.
But it took "a king" like Bishop Eddie Long, in cooperation with a con artist like "Rabbi" Ralph Messer, to give this disgrace the headlines and attention it deserves.
Visions of the tyrants Apostomus and Titus, and the torturous death of Rabbi Chananya ben Teradyon, must have subconsciously danced through the heads of many Jews upon viewing this modern-day mega-disgrace. It was a grotesque mockery and the ultimate insult to see an evangelical snake oil salesman, masquerading as a rabbi - defile a purported Holocaust scroll.
At yet another church, Messer involves the congregation in a cult-like ritual with an Ethiopian Torah scroll. He refers to the scroll on the floor with an irreverent, "this baby is one of my favourites". He then proceeds to unroll several yards of it and pass it through the crowd, so they can run their hands over the sheepskin parchment - all with musical accompaniment.
Messer is not marginal
Make no mistake. Ralph Messer is hardly a marginal figure in the Christian evangelical world (although he may be marginalized after the fallout from this last stunt). He frequently appears in mega churches and on Christian missionary networks such as Daystar, Trinity Broadcasting (TBN), and Gods Learning Channel (GLC). Kenneth Copeland has deemed Messer "a prophet of god". And cloaked in full rabbinic garb, with Torah in tow, Messer managed to make an official mockery of the Torah and Jewish prayer in front of North Dakota's House of Representatives.
Prominent "Christian Zionist" leaders and personalities have graciously invited Messer's twisted messages and perversion of Jewish rituals into their congregations and hosted his bag of tricks on their television shows.
As of this writing, Christians United for Israel (CUFI) has been remarkably silent despite the fact that one of their executive directors, Bishop Keith Butler hosted a Torah wrap with Messer and was presented with a scroll at his Word of Faith church. Messer declared to Bishop Butler's mega church congregation that they are "Israelites" and "chosen", with the Torah as their inheritance.
It's the height of irony when Messer tells Butler's Word of Faith congregation, "We [Jews] thought that you [Christians] would mishandle the Torah."
Stephen Strang, a long-time regional director of CUFI, is also the founder and publisher of Charisma Magazine and on February 1st, when news of Messer's charade broke, that publication ran a misleading report, with deceptive headlines: Bishop Eddie Long Crowned King in Ritualistic Jewish Ceremony. The news story fails to identify Messer as a bogus or "messianic" rabbi, and there was nothing "Jewish" about Messer's "ritualistic ceremony", as the headline implies. However, once the magnitude of the scandal and offense became apparent, Charisma did run subsequent articles which did identify Messer as messianic and phony. But as of this writing the original report remains online and uncorrected.
Once Messer and his antics were exposed, popular evangelical personality Pastor Paula White scrambled to remove online material, while denying connections with Messer. But video material of Paula being wrapped in a scroll did surface despite her efforts to keep things under wraps, and she eventually apologized. Paula White's ex-husband Pastor Randy White has also gone through a "cleansing" ritual involving Messer and a Torah scroll.
That Messer's contrived Torah scroll rituals are seemingly connected with some type of purification rites for mega church pastors who have had widely publicized and serious moral failings, like Eddie Long, or who have made the tabloids with alleged inappropriate relationships(in the case of Paula White and Benny Hinn), is yet another disturbing aspect of what's already a supreme affront to Judaism and the Jewish people.
Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon enjoyed a warm relationship with Pastors Paula and Randy White while serving as Israel's Ambassador to Washington. Ayalon addressed a gathering of pastors at the White's Without Walls International Church in 2003, telling them that, "Your Judeo-Christian heritage is entwined with ours". In addition, the Whites were keynote speakers at the Gala Washington banquetto bid farewell to then outgoing U.S. Ambassador Ayalon and his wife, Anne.
That Anne Ayalon feels comfortable referring to Jesus on Daystar television, the same missionary network which runs programming such as Messer's instructions on how to convert Jews, should be a little jaw-dropping.
That the Jewish state's top political and religious leaders have been hobnobbing with the kind of "best friends" that keep the National Enquirer in business should give us pause for thought. Do we really want to be "entwined" with the mega-church culture and their leaders?
But that our Jewish spokespersons can sit with the same GLC (Gods Learning Channel) hosts, who regularly distort our Torah with the likes of Ralph Messer and Mark Biltz, should cause us to bury our heads in shame.
They know not what they do...or do they?
There's little question that mega church leaders and televangelists know exactly what they are doing by conspiring with the likes of messianic Hebraic roots teachers like "Rabbi" Messer. Appropriating Jewish rituals, and deceptively blurring the lines between faiths for a "higher cause," is part and parcel of historic and modern-day Christian evangelizing doctrine. But what about the well-intentioned gentile multitudes who become “enraptured”by mixed messages and are simply unaware of any larger theological agenda?
Not only is the "messianic Jewish" deception damaging and deeply offensive to the Jewish people, but myriads of Christian congregants who are sincerely seeking the truth and spiritual fulfilment are being cruelly deceived. A quest to recapture what’s perceived as 1stCentury Christianity will not make them Jewish, or closer to Judaism.
The ethical issues and spiritual implications are enormous and Jewish leaders who court evangelical leaders should surely ask why it is that the apologies for an obvious affront to the Jewish people were so slow in coming, and only after embarrassing exposure of what's become routine polite rape of Jewish customs and rituals in the messianic evangelical world.
Those Torah observant Jewish leaders in the pro-Israel camp, who are locked in the evangelical embrace, may want to ask themselves why they were so remarkably silent over an obvious and very public scam and desecration. Could it be that their interfaith collaborative educational efforts have sowed some wild Hebraic weeds and root rot? Is the deafening silence due to earnest and necessary reflection, or the fear of alienating Christian friends?
Due to the lack of Orthodox Jewish voices, the task of defending and rescuing the Torah was left to the ADL, the liberal Huffington Post, and to those Christian messianic sect leaders who expediently chose to distance themselves from Eddie Long and Ralph Messer – something one former Protestant minister, who has since converted to Judaism, calls "laughable".
Jewish Israel notes that there was one non-evangelical Christian voice that stood out from among the rest. By far the most outstanding Christian refutation of Messer's outrage came from Rev. Dr. Wil Gafney. She was prompt, clear, and on target. Even so, Jewish Israel feels that Rev. Gafney herself is not immune to dabbling in muddy waters of messianic dualism, which is apparent from her recent follow-up article.
Rabbi Riskin and "Rabbi" Messer – a toxic mix?
Pastor Dr. La Salle Vaughn of New Life Christian Center in San Antonio enjoys a close relationship with Chief Rabbi of Efrat, Shlomo Riskin. Vaughn has brought his church group members to Israel "to dialogue" at Riskin’s Ohr Torah Stone Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation (CJCUC). Rabbi Riskin has spoken in Pastor Vaughn's church. As part of a book promotion, Vaughn has interviewed Rabbi Riskin and other CJCUC staff. Pastor Vaughn and his church group have included a visit to Rabbi Riskin on their Israel tour itinerary for this coming June. Pastor Vaughn also sits with Rabbi Riskin on the advisory board of Anne Ayalon's Galilean Christian resort project. And both men work closely with Pastor John Hagee of CUFI and with ICEJ (the International Christian Embassy, Jerusalem).
Vaughn, who takes his Hebraic roots seriously, sports a 50 foot wide and 20 foot high Jerusalem stone replica of the Western Wall on his church property. He openly supports Messianic missionary leaders like "Rabbi" Jonathan Bernis of Jewish Voice Ministries, who aggressively targets Jews for conversion, and other evangelizing organizations like Promise Keepers, which supports messianic endeavors in Israel.
Vaughn and his congregants have been greatly influenced for numerous years by "Rabbi" Ralph Messer. Messer was the keynote speaker at Pastor Vaughn's Days of Elijah Conference in 2003 ("Rabbi Jonathan Bernis filled the bogus rabbi slot in Vaughn's 2011 conference). In the 2011 "Yeshiva" section of New Life Christian Center's website, it's made clear that "Rabbi Messer’s message entitled 'A Look at the Torah' inspired Dr. LaSalle R. Vaughn (founder and pastor of New Life Christian Center) to start a Yeshiva school".
One need only listen to Messer's rhetoric on the "resurrected" Torah scroll to understand why Dr. Vaughn may delight as David Nekrutman, Executive Director of Riskin's interfaith center, describes the Torah as an "incarnation". And Messer's bestowing the title of "Israelite" and "chosen" upon mega church congregations could shed some light on Vaughn's request for the priestly blessing from Rabbi Riskin( Riskin happily complies.)
So both Rabbi Riskin and David Nekrtuman now find their interviews prominently featured in Vaughn's online book promotion alongside notorious evangelical messianic personalities such as Jonathan Bernis and Joseph Shulam of Netivyah, who deceptively pose as rabbis.
Pastor Vaughn has no problem mixing Riskin's message with Messer's message, and the presence of authentic Torah teachers on Vaughn's book site only adds legitimacy to his One New Man aspirations and the breaching of sacred lines between faith communities:
"The one new man is a total representation of both the Jewish and non Jewish believers in Christ. God is bringing the whole house of Israel back together again. The house of Israel includes the church of the Lord Jesus Christ because it involves the multitude of nations. Scattered all over the world, we began to get involved in pagan worship; however, we did embrace Jesus as Lord. Now, God is drawing the church back to our Hebraic roots. The house of Judah represents the Jewish people. The house of Judah has held fast to its Hebraic roots. God is causing the Jews to embrace Yeshua as their Messiah, and the church to embrace their Hebraic roots. When this happens, God will take the house of Israel and the house of Judah and form one new man according to Paul in the book of Ephesians…"
If our rabbis and leaders continue to encourage evangelicals to explore the 1st Century Hebraic roots of their Christian idol, then the dangers are obvious. Equally problematic are clumsy theological attempts by certain rabbis such as Shmuley Boteach to de-deify jesus and to render him kosher.
In light of the wide-spread abuse of Jewish ideas, rituals and objects currently taking place in evangelical churches, perhaps Rabbi Riskin would consider reversing his psak of last June which grants permission for Jews to enter evangelical churches. Perhaps Rabbi Riskin's center for Jewish Christian theological dialogue would like to reconsider their "Don't leave Jesus at the door" policy which welcomes Christian visitors to "pray in Jesus name…", despite being in a synagogue.
Back to Biblical Basics
A look at this week's Haftorah reading has Elijah confront the Jewish people on Mt. Carmel as they toy with cult worship. When Elijah addresses the Jewish people and asks " How long will you dance between two opinions?"(Kings 18:21), the people are incapable of answering him. The widely accepted rabbinic commentary relates that:
"…apparently they saw nothing wrong with combining the contradictory beliefs of Baalism and monotheism" (see Artscroll English Tanach Stone Edition page 856).
If we turn to Ezra 4:1 we find the foreign tribes in Israel imploring the Jewish leaders:
"Let us build [the Temple] with you, for like you we will seek your God…"
Again, the accepted rabbinic commentary holds that:
"…these newcomers adopted a distorted version of the Jewish religion, sacrificing to the God of Israel as well as to their own idols." (see Artscroll English Tanach Stone Edition page 1820).
Messianics are not mainstream, but they are opportunists
As we pen this, "righteous" gentile messianics are playing a double game as they frantically do all they can to distance themselves from "Rabbi" Messer's antics, while using the opportunity to present themselves as authentic guardians of the Torah. Mega-church shows tend to embarrass the "humble" messianic Christian congregations which take a far more covert approach to evangelizing.
One former congregant of Ralph Messer's congregation, who spent years exploring both Baptist and messianic congregations before converting to Judaism, relayed to Jewish Israelthat certain messianic congregations downplayed evangelism efforts and instead placed an emphasis on gaining "legitimacy in the eyes of Jews."
The Messianic Christian organizations the UMJC and the MJAA issued a statement condemning Messer, claiming that he is "operating entirely outside the mainstream Messianic Jewish community."
Of course, the consensus opinion among Jews and most Christians is that messianics are anything but mainstream. As far as Jewish Israelis concerned, messianic, Hebraic roots and Israel-friendly evangelical movements all share a common fetish – a desire to toy with and twist Jewish objects, rituals, and blessings to enhance a belief in Jesus with many of these sects mimicking Judaism with the intention of duping the Jews into incorporating jesus into their belief system.
"Let's always remember to treat Jewish tradition with respect. Let us understand that when one abuses Jewish symbols, even with good intentions, it could actually end up pushing Jewish people away from the gospel...Ralph Messer's misrepresentation of Judaism and abuse of a Torah scroll was one of the most offensive, weird and unbiblical acts I've ever seen done in the name of the messianic faith."
Maoz Israel has also been known to abuse Jewish symbolism. For example, they can bake a pretty warped matzah.
Ralph Messer's presentation may be bombastic, but messianic First Fruits of Zion's (FFOZ) approach to the Torah takes the crown for deception. Founder and Director of FFOZ, Boaz Michael, received his bogus conversion to Judaism from the same source as Ralph Messer, which makes FFOZ's condemnation of Messer especially sick and cynical. Their blog post condemning Messer includes a pitch for their premier evangelizing tool the Delitzsch Hebrew English Gospels.
Despite open affiliation with the leadership of FFOZ as well as his sponsorship and a teaching of FFOZ affiliated messianic and missionary programming, Mike Isley enjoys a close affiliation with leaders in Judea and Samaria, many of the Arutz 7's English radio personalities, and HaYovel's Tommy Waller. Heads-up, Rabbis and community leaders in Judea and Samaria: Boaz Michael, founder and director of FFOZ has just arrived in Israel for a month. Like Isley, he can be seen sporting Jewish attire but as of this writing it’s understood that neither Boaz Michael nor his wife and children are halachically Jewish, and they continue their Christian missionary endeavors.
A "rabbi" by any other name: interfaith fraud
There is indeed a common denominator where certain Jews and Gentiles meet in this world and it's in the realm of human nature and the capacity for all of us to lie, cheat, deceive and destroy.
In a literal nutshell, Christian "Rabbi" Ralph Messer, like Boaz Michael , is the product of a fraudulent conversion by bogus "Rabbi" Nathan Lerer. Nathan Lerer should not be confused with his father, the late Rabbi Samuel Lerer, of Mexico City who left a legacy of a very liberal conversion policy.
It was Akiva (Mark) Powers, currently the American Director of MAGEN, the Counter-Missionary Organization, who discovered that messianic personalities, such as Ralph Messer and Boaz Michael (aka, Detweiler), had obtained false conversions. Jewish Israelcontacted Powers and he relayed the following to us:
"In 1991 I was asked by someone to verify whether a particular conversion by a "Rabbi" was legitimate. They sent me the "conversion certificate", and I started to do some research. I found that the "Rabbi" was selling conversions for anywhere from $2,500 to as much as $5,000. This may sound like a lot of money, however, at the time, with an accepted conversion, one could make Aliyah… I tracked down the Yeshiva in Israel that the "Rabbi" claimed to have Smicha from, and found that it was a Yeshiva Katana, and that at no time in their history did they ever offer a Smicha program. I sent them a copy of the conversion certificate, which was on their letterhead, and they acknowledged that the letterhead was theirs. They also acknowledged that they knew the father of the "Rabbi", who, at one time, was employed by them as a meshulach, if I recall. They speculated that either the "Rabbi" or his father stole the letterhead, and used it for this purpose.
In the interim, the "Rabbi" [Lerer] opened up a hybrid synagogue in the US, and started services and continued with his bogus conversions. It was through this bogus conversion program that Ralph and his wife, Boaz (aka Michael Detweiler) and his wife and others belonging to the same group, received their conversions. I am not sure of the date of their conversions, however. Ralph was never, and still is not Jewish. His mother and his siblings are or were practicing Roman Catholics.
I informed the Misrad HaPanim [Israel’s Ministry of the Interior] of this information, and unfortunately, they did not, or were unable to stop their becoming Israeli citizens."
Mr. Powers, who was serving as Director of Jews for Judaism at the time, provided us with a copy of his correspondence with the assistant editor of the Intermountain Jewish Newswhich exposes "Rabbi" Nathan Lerer.
Jewish Israelhas been in contact with one of Nathan Lerer's former congregants, a victim of the conversion scam, who gravitated to Ralph Messer and eventually found her way to authentic Judaism. She had this to say:
"We were offered the opportunity to 'convert' to Judaism while retaining our faith in 'the Jewish messiah', we did not see it as a contradiction and we jumped at the chance.
The former 'rabbi' of the small synagogue in Cheyenne offered his ordination from an Orthodox yeshiva in Jerusalem as proof of his authority to perform conversions and proceeded to 'convert' several families belonging to the Ft. Collins congregation. We were told that he was 'sympathetic' to the messianic movement and it did not occur to us at any time that we might be doing something illegal or fraudulent, even when we had to pay for his services.
We had been going to the Ft Collins Congregation from 1990-91 and then again from 1992-93. (We left for a year because we weren't sure it was a legitimate thing.) When we went back it was because we had nothing better at the time. It was when we went back that we heard about the members (we had never become members, just attendees) getting a mass 'conversion' with Nathan Lerer who was living in Cheyenne where we resided at that time. We were told that if we wanted to 'convert' to Messianic Judaism, we would have to make our own arrangement with him. He charged them something like $450 per family and as I recall, he charged us something like $750. I know of a couple he did much later that he charged them $2000. He had us coming to his house for lessons every week.
At one point, Lerer tried to start his own congregation meeting at a hotel in Denver. We were still searching for the authentic Judaism, so we tried it out. I've forgotten exactly how we met Messer, but it seems to me it was through Lerer. So, back at that time, everyone was talking about going to Israel and Lerer claimed to own an apartment in Jerusalem that he would lease out cheaply to any of the messianics who actually made it there. Messer came along and said he was going to open offices in Israel and dangled a job possibility in Israel before anyone who was willing to come work for him…"
Our source goes on to recount how her husband took Messer's offer, with disturbing consequences.
A Sobering Pre-Purim Conclusion:
"Now when Mordechai knew all that was done, Mordechai rent his clothes, and put on sackcloth with ashes, and went out into the midst of the city, and cried with a loud and a bitter cry."( Esther 4:1)
Despite the wide-spread violation and corruption of Judaism's traditions, rituals and Torah, which is currently in-vogue among Christian Hebraic roots/messianic sects and mega-churches, our Jewish leaders are, for the most part, silent. This usurping of symbolism and twisting of Jewish foundations, which is routinely used as a tactic to dupe Jews, draw them away from their faith, and as a means for Christian movements to lay claim to Israel's heritage and inheritance, fails to elicit an outcry from our leaders. Are we incapable of collectively unmasking this messianic charade?
"For we are sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be slain, and to perish!(Esther 7:4)
Rav Sholom Gold, Jewish Israel’s Rabbinic Director, explains that Queen Esther's prime concern, as she lists it first, was with the threat of spiritual destruction. The Hebrew word for “destroyed” as it appears in the Book of Esther relates to "shmad"- a state of spiritual destruction and apostasy -when the gentiles influence Jews to forsake their Torah and faith.
Hey Israel, look what’s been done to your Torah.
Is it possible that the Jewish people are so drunk with evangelical spirits that they didn't take notice?